Progress As You Age

drums1225

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 23, 2017
Messages
319
Reaction score
555
Location
New York, USA
My goal as a drummer has always been to play at a level where I would be a fan of my own playing. If I walked into a place and the drummer onstage was "me", what would be my objective opinion of my playing? Would I buy a recording that I played on? If I were an A-list musician, would I hire me? These questions only become more critical as we age, because, "If not now, when?"

I remember reading an interview with Steve Smith (well into his career), where he was asked, "What are you practicing right now?" He said (paraphrased), "I'm not trying to learn new licks, or get faster, or anything like that. I'm working on making everything I already know how to play sound and feel better." This really resonated with me. It's not only about what you play, it's about how you play it.

I can say, without hesitation, that my biggest period of growth as a drummer in my adult life and career has occurred over the past 8 or 9 years (I'm 53). I formed an instrumental jazz-funk group in 2013, in order to have a creative outlet, a challenge, and to play the music I most enjoy, without consideration for its earning potential or commercial viability. I recorded every jam session, rehearsal, and eventually, live gigs. I listened back to everything with a critical ear.

On gigs, we found ourselves in venues where we had to play at a considerably lower volume than I was comfortable with. When listening back, the simpler grooves sounded good, but the more adventurous "Mike Clark-ish" playing wasn't sounding the way I heard it in my head (or even the way it sounded in rehearsals). My subdivisions were tentative, my ghost notes often dragging. Frankly, a lot of it wasn't grooving the way I knew I could. I was discouraged, but there were two choices: accept it, or change it. I chose the latter.

I worked on playing at a whisper volume, putting every ghost stroke where it belonged, without losing any intensity or consistency. I had to develop effortless control of tiny strokes. For me, this involved additional focus on the pinky fingers in my grip. Within a relatively short time, I could hear obvious improvement, and it inspired me to practice it even more. Over several years, this weakness turned into a strength. Now, I can play at a volume that an infant could sleep through (my now 6 year old daughter as evidence), without sacrificing feel or control. In fact, I really enjoy "simmering" at a low volume.

What I didn't expect was how this undertaking would affect ALL of my playing in a profound way. The looseness and control that low volume playing requires bled into everything I played, even loud rock. My groove and pocket improved noticeably, and my confidence followed. The caliber of musicians I regularly play with has reached new heights in the past 4 or 5 years. I can't imagine it's a coincidence.

Old dogs, you CAN learn new tricks!
 

Freewill3

Very well Known Member
Joined
Mar 29, 2016
Messages
500
Reaction score
296
Location
Illinois
My goal as a drummer has always been to play at a level where I would be a fan of my own playing. If I walked into a place and the drummer onstage was "me", what would be my objective opinion of my playing? Would I buy a recording that I played on? If I were an A-list musician, would I hire me? These questions only become more critical as we age, because, "If not now, when?"

I remember reading an interview with Steve Smith (well into his career), where he was asked, "What are you practicing right now?" He said (paraphrased), "I'm not trying to learn new licks, or get faster, or anything like that. I'm working on making everything I already know how to play sound and feel better." This really resonated with me. It's not only about what you play, it's about how you play it.

I can say, without hesitation, that my biggest period of growth as a drummer in my adult life and career has occurred over the past 8 or 9 years (I'm 53). I formed an instrumental jazz-funk group in 2013, in order to have a creative outlet, a challenge, and to play the music I most enjoy, without consideration for its earning potential or commercial viability. I recorded every jam session, rehearsal, and eventually, live gigs. I listened back to everything with a critical ear.

On gigs, we found ourselves in venues where we had to play at a considerably lower volume than I was comfortable with. When listening back, the simpler grooves sounded good, but the more adventurous "Mike Clark-ish" playing wasn't sounding the way I heard it in my head (or even the way it sounded in rehearsals). My subdivisions were tentative, my ghost notes often dragging. Frankly, a lot of it wasn't grooving the way I knew I could. I was discouraged, but there were two choices: accept it, or change it. I chose the latter.

I worked on playing at a whisper volume, putting every ghost stroke where it belonged, without losing any intensity or consistency. I had to develop effortless control of tiny strokes. For me, this involved additional focus on the pinky fingers in my grip. Within a relatively short time, I could hear obvious improvement, and it inspired me to practice it even more. Over several years, this weakness turned into a strength. Now, I can play at a volume that an infant could sleep through (my now 6 year old daughter as evidence), without sacrificing feel or control. In fact, I really enjoy "simmering" at a low volume.

What I didn't expect was how this undertaking would affect ALL of my playing in a profound way. The looseness and control that low volume playing requires bled into everything I played, even loud rock. My groove and pocket improved noticeably, and my confidence followed. The caliber of musicians I regularly play with has reached new heights in the past 4 or 5 years. I can't imagine it's a coincidence.

Old dogs, you CAN learn new tricks!
Well said drum1225! I enjoy & relate to the "simmering" description, that's where I feel I'm at now.
 

Drums

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 5, 2010
Messages
478
Reaction score
142
Location
Slingerland
When I was a kid, drumming was everything to me ... until photography came along ... then I didn't drum for thirty years until I was 45 or so. I picked it up again full speed ahead and I'm immensely better in every way now at 60. I regret having given it up earlier in life because I'd be that much better and would possibly have made it a career, but even though drumming came back to me quite easily and naturally, I've progressed a LOT since I've picked it up again.
 

backtodrum

Very well Known Member
Joined
May 11, 2006
Messages
1,037
Reaction score
519
The older I get the less I need to play to learn something. If there's a lick or groove I want to learn I'll just think about it offhandedly for a day or two before ever putting it to the kit, and when I finally sit down all the parts are there and it's just a matter of playing it cleanly. I can accomplish so much more by doing that instead of dedicating an afternoon of focused practice to the task.

I have found this to be true as well...

My chops have suffered a little as the result of arthritic hands. I don't have the speed and flexibility to hold a stick while playing long complex ride patterns and ultra fast tom fills anymore. My hands hurt and want to cramp up fairly easily. I use hand strengtheners like squeeze exercises to make my forearms stronger and increase what hand strength I have. As a result of my arthritis however, it has caused me to focus closer attention to groove and making a song feel right. Playing what is necessary and not to show off clever chops over the last 20 years or so. I have just adapted as a drummer to the conditions my body will allow. Franky, the classic rock and country I play in my dance band doesn't require massive speed chops as it is. I will say that in a lot of ways I am a much better and mature drummer now than when I was young.
 
Last edited:

kdgrissom

Very well Known Member
Joined
Jan 27, 2013
Messages
738
Reaction score
971
Location
Florida
No matter where we are on the age spectrum, here is the cold fact: We all too easily drift into playing what has become easy for us. There is the side of us that publicly plays grooves, fills and beats that we can easily toss off to impress, and there is the other side that truly knows what our limits and capabilities really are (the "man in the mirror" sort of thing).
I feel that to truly broaden your musical abilities, one must continually face the man-in-the-mirror (or person) and systematically practice those things that are unfamiliar. Progress will eventually come, if not only by achieving more prowess and confidence, but by an greater awareness of how little we have scratched the surface of what is possible on this instrument.
 
Last edited:

hefty

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
3,290
Reaction score
404
Location
Seattle
I love topics like this. Such good thoughts already posted here...

I think there's an advantage to learning as a more experienced (i.e. older) musician. You've already been through learning many different feels or techniques or whatever on the drums. It kind of builds on itself. Almost like learning a 3rd language being easier than learning your 2nd.

That said it is amazing sometimes how long I've worked on some things before they actually start showing up in my real playing (real meaning on-stage). Literally many years in some cases.

I'm reminded of something Kenny Aranoff said at a clinic once: pick one or maybe two things to work hard on for the coming year. I think he meant because it takes that amount of focus to get great at even one seemingly small-ish technique (or feel, or whatever).
 

BennyK

DFO Star
Platinum Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 6, 2008
Messages
16,173
Reaction score
3,611
I play the music I want to play with people whose company I enjoy . It took me the better part of half a lifetime to be able to learn to say and do that . I think that's progress , yes ?
 
Last edited:

David Peraldo

Member
Joined
Aug 1, 2016
Messages
13
Reaction score
7
Location
Pflugerville,Tx.
I play the music I want to play with people whose company I enjoy . It took me the better part of half a lifetime to be able to learn to say and do that . I think that's progress , yes ?
Well said. I can’t seem to get auditions anymore because I’m 75, white hair and wrinkles. Used to be the only wrinkles I had were in my slacks but I still practice at home though on Vic Firth pads on the kit and Zildjian low volumes. Playing to cd’s and if I can’t hear what the drummer is doing, I think I’m doing ok. Still have speed with my right wrist but not quite like long ago. On fast 4’s I’ve mastered the Watt’s technique and can stay right in there. Still chasin’ the dream.
 

bob

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 22, 2006
Messages
4,545
Reaction score
1,051
Location
wild wild west
at 65 i'm a way better drummer than i was at 16 .... although at 16 i thought i was all that
i have more time to play now .... i play (practice ) almost every day
if i'm watching tv , i'm on the pad .... i'll never be as good as i want to be .... but who will ?
 

zeichner

Active Member
Joined
Feb 21, 2014
Messages
29
Reaction score
41
Location
Red Wing, MN
When I was young, I could practice six hours a day. Now, after fifty years, I practice between two & three hours a day, but I think I practice much more efficiently. In the last 18 months, I've completely switched from cross-hand playing to open-handed, and can do most everything either right- or left-handed. I'm also much more introspective about my playing and have learned to switch my focus from chops to pocket, really examining my timing at slow tempos. So, while I acquired most of my technical facility by my thirties, I've continued to improve musically into my sixties.
 

yetanotherdrummer

DFO Veteran
Joined
Dec 8, 2010
Messages
2,022
Reaction score
937
Location
Kalamazoo, MI
I have found this to be true as well...

My chops have suffered a little as the result of arthritic hands. I don't have the speed and flexibility to hold a stick while playing long complex ride patterns and ultra fast tom fills anymore. My hands hurt and want to cramp up fairly easily. I use hand strengtheners like squeeze exercises to make my forearms stronger and increase what hand strength I have. As a result of my arthritis however, it has caused me to focus closer attention to groove and making a song feel right. Playing what is necessary and not to show off clever chops over the last 20 years or so. I have just adapted as a drummer to the conditions my body will allow. Franky, the classic rock and country I play in my dance band doesn't require massive speed chops as it is. I will say that in a lot of ways I am a much better and mature drummer now than when I was young.
I switched to the Zildjian DIP sticks. Using the sticks with the grip coating keeps my hands from hurting and cramping. They have really allowed me to keep drumming.
 

Squirrel Man

DFO Veteran
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
Messages
2,256
Reaction score
2,792
I was never an overly accomplished drummer over the decades. I did what I did, in ignorance but in youth it passed as decent, IMO.

Now in my early 50's and trying to approach it more seriously I'm discovering a lot of things. I'll try to keep it simple. Spectrum - physical ability vs. wisdom. I can't progress as quickly as I could 30 years ago, like I could pick up things and just do them. I have to work on it a lot more now. But now I think about what I'm doing a lot and I focus on the details, that part making it easier. I also understand my limitations now and I don't try to exceed them. Weaknesses I have now that I know I can't improve on without endless work I tend to push aside a little and work on the strengths I have.

I'm never going to be Peart and just knowing that puts me in a place that I'm not going to over-reach. Focusing on the things that I'll never be able to do without years of work allows me to focus on the things I can do and be better at it.

FWIW
 

Matched Gripper

DFO Veteran
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
2,802
Reaction score
2,545
My goal as a drummer has always been to play at a level where I would be a fan of my own playing. If I walked into a place and the drummer onstage was "me", what would be my objective opinion of my playing? Would I buy a recording that I played on? If I were an A-list musician, would I hire me? These questions only become more critical as we age, because, "If not now, when?"

I remember reading an interview with Steve Smith (well into his career), where he was asked, "What are you practicing right now?" He said (paraphrased), "I'm not trying to learn new licks, or get faster, or anything like that. I'm working on making everything I already know how to play sound and feel better." This really resonated with me. It's not only about what you play, it's about how you play it.

I can say, without hesitation, that my biggest period of growth as a drummer in my adult life and career has occurred over the past 8 or 9 years (I'm 53). I formed an instrumental jazz-funk group in 2013, in order to have a creative outlet, a challenge, and to play the music I most enjoy, without consideration for its earning potential or commercial viability. I recorded every jam session, rehearsal, and eventually, live gigs. I listened back to everything with a critical ear.

On gigs, we found ourselves in venues where we had to play at a considerably lower volume than I was comfortable with. When listening back, the simpler grooves sounded good, but the more adventurous "Mike Clark-ish" playing wasn't sounding the way I heard it in my head (or even the way it sounded in rehearsals). My subdivisions were tentative, my ghost notes often dragging. Frankly, a lot of it wasn't grooving the way I knew I could. I was discouraged, but there were two choices: accept it, or change it. I chose the latter.

I worked on playing at a whisper volume, putting every ghost stroke where it belonged, without losing any intensity or consistency. I had to develop effortless control of tiny strokes. For me, this involved additional focus on the pinky fingers in my grip. Within a relatively short time, I could hear obvious improvement, and it inspired me to practice it even more. Over several years, this weakness turned into a strength. Now, I can play at a volume that an infant could sleep through (my now 6 year old daughter as evidence), without sacrificing feel or control. In fact, I really enjoy "simmering" at a low volume.

What I didn't expect was how this undertaking would affect ALL of my playing in a profound way. The looseness and control that low volume playing requires bled into everything I played, even loud rock. My groove and pocket improved noticeably, and my confidence followed. The caliber of musicians I regularly play with has reached new heights in the past 4 or 5 years. I can't imagine it's a coincidence.

Old dogs, you CAN learn new tricks!
Yup! Dynamic variation and independence is what turns a lifeless, ham handed groove into a deep funky groove. It requires learning to play at very low stick heights, when needed, a critical skill, IMO, that I overlooked for a long time. Even after working on it for a while, I recently discovered just how much lower some players can play at when I saw David Chiverton up close at a gig. His ability to play some pretty up tempo ride patterns as low as an inch off of the cymbal was eye opening.

Would this skill be easier to perfect if I was 20, 30, 40 years younger? Maybe.
 
Last edited:

pwc1141

DFO Veteran
Joined
Nov 3, 2009
Messages
2,300
Reaction score
1,785
Location
Pattaya, Thailand
I honestly think I play better at my advanced age than I ever did before and that is because I play less and listen more and that came from many years of playing with very good players who just wanted solid rhythmic help not flash. I learned to focus on accuracy and feel and how to get a buzz from just laying it down for the front line..... I doubt that wisdom would have come in my early days.
 

audiochurch

DFO Veteran
Joined
Nov 2, 2010
Messages
1,633
Reaction score
349
Location
New Jersey
In my mid forties, and love learning Latin beats/ideas to incorporate into my rock band. I feel like I am just beginning again.
 

squidart

DFO Veteran
Joined
Jun 26, 2018
Messages
1,847
Reaction score
2,072
Location
Pacific Northwest
I might not be learning a bunch of new things at 61 but within the past couple of years I feel I'm able to weave together all the piecemeal bits I have learned over the years into something more seamless with a lot less effort/thinking. Progress for me for sure.
 


Top